The month of January is almost over with heartrending news of several celebrities passing on. These three talented stars left an unforgettable impression on my childhood and young adult life.
At the age of 9, I was first introduced to Abe Vigoda as the loving grandpa in the comedy film, Look Who’s Talking. Because of his honest, caring nature and forgetfulness, Grandpa was the reason why James (John Travolta) and Mollie (Kirstie Alley) reconciled and ultimately got married, giving the movie the happy ending it deserved.
I’ll never forget Abe’s bushy eyebrows and his bright smile, as they often reminded me of Grandpa Louie, who passed away in 1995. Like Abe’s character, Grandpa Louie was a highly entertaining storyteller to his grandson. My siblings and I frequently visited his home in Monterey Park, California, where Grandpa shared old Chinese folk tales that made his grandchildren laugh, filling them with awe and wonder. He was the first adult I met who demonstrated the power of storytelling, and hearing the news of Abe’s passing hit me harder than I expected.
Alan Rickman starred in several of my favorite childhood films. In 1988, he was the terrorist, Hans Gruber, who had me at the edge of my seat in Die Hard. I vividly remember him executing hostages in a calculated manner. His cool, sly demeanor with John McClane (Bruce Willis) was brilliant, especially when he ordered his henchmen to shoot office glass walls. As a result, sharp fragments shattered across the floor, causing serious harm to McClane who had been running barefoot. Definitely one of my favorite villains of all time.
Alan also made me laugh when he played the Sheriff George of Nottingham, threatening to carve out Kevin Costner’s heart out with a spoon in Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves. Why a spoon? Because it will hurt more!
In 1999, Alan was Sir Alexander Dane, a sarcastic, jaded character in Galaxy Quest. In the film’s most powerful scene, Sir Alexander Dane holds a fatally-wounded friend in his arms and recites a set of words that is no longer the dumb catchphrase he hates, but a heartfelt cry of grief and respect:
By Grabthar’s hammer… by the Suns of Worvan… you shall be… avenged.
In 2003, I loved to hate Alan Rickman as Harry, in Love Actually. Married to Karen (Emma Thompson), Harry ends up having an affair with an attractive younger woman. Whenever I think about the concept of adultery, I often picture regretful Harry, and the agony he caused Karen.
I’m embarrassed to confess, but I have yet to watch the Harry Potter films. I’ve read all the books and absolutely loved them. Someday, when my kids are of age, I look forward to seeing Professor Snape and his iconic scowl. I have no doubt the last film will bring me to tears (as the last book did), when Harry reminisces about one of the bravest men he’s ever known.
In 1986, David Bowie’s creepy yet magical performance as the Goblin King in Labyrinth gave me nightmares. The film prompted my parents to install a nightlight in my room. To this day, I never let my closets remain open, as all kinds of terrifying creatures can sneak out when I’m asleep. Also, when I find myself in narrow corridors, I fear ghastly hands will pop out out of the walls and snatch me away. Not the ideal way to remember David Bowie. Trust me, I wish I didn’t have these recurring nightmares!
The most profound effect David Bowie had on me was from his masterpiece, Under Pressure, recorded with Queen. Although the song had been around for nearly two decades, I didn’t give it any attention until I saw Gross Pointe Blank in 1997. In the film’s most memorable scene, Martin (John Cusack) reluctantly holds his friend’s baby at their 10-year high school reunion. Staring into the eyes of one so vulnerable, young and innocent stirred something deep within Martin. Perhaps there was more to “life in progress.” David Bowie’s song played perfectly in the background with a crescendo that still gives me goosebumps. Whenever I listen to his song, I am reminded of the beauty and power in how love changes the coldest of people.
As much as we praise them, celebrities, like us, are mere mortals. Once our hearts stop beating, our bodies fade away and we are gone. But these talented individuals, like our loved ones, significantly impacted us at a young age. And in that way, they will not be forgotten.